Prairie View

Thursday, December 31, 2015

You've Gotta Read This!

Please, please click through to read the poem Dwight Gingrich wrote and published very recently.  You can find it here. The title of the post is "How Do You Know Me?"--Words and Self-identity."  I daresay that any Anabaptist writer who has ventured into controversial territory identifies with the sentiments expressed in the poem, but most of us could not express them with this much clarity and grace.

I commented on Dwight's poem.  For now, I won't repeat the poem or the comments here.  I might do so later, since I've been thinking about how it would be to assemble these blog posts eventually into hard-copy booklets and coming across links to sites that can't be accessed from a hard copy.  Frustrating!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

In Over My Head, Under the Gun, and other Cliches

With a nudge from Dwight Gingrich, I wrote a response to Tim Challies' article with this title:  "How Should Christians Use Guns?"  It's copied below, but first, some background.  To wild applause, Jerry Falwell, Jr. president of Liberty University (formerly Liberty Baptist College) on December 4 urged students at that school to carry guns and use them on Muslims.  The story was widely reported in secular media.  You can read one such report from the Washington Post here.

Subsequently, John Piper, chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary, wrote an article with this title:  "Should Christians be Encouraged to Arm Themselves?"  You can read that article here.  Piper answers that question with a simple "No." He goes on to list nine considerations that lead him to this conclusion.  What Piper says resonates with me.

Tim Challies is the third person on stage in this blog post.  He wrote a response to Piper's article.  You can read his response here.  Essentially Challies quotes people who disagree with Piper, and indicates his preference for the views of those who disagree with Piper.  Among Christians, Tim Challies is an extremely popular blogger, author, book reviewer (for World magazine), and pastor in the Reformed (Calvinist) tradition.  I got those last details from what he says about himself on his blog.

The last person on stage in this post is Dwight Gingrich.  He currently lives in Leon, IA.  I've never met him, but knew both of his parents-in-law.  I like reading what he writes and admire his ability to engage on topics where I'd be "in over my head" in short order.  He is an apologist for (and occasional critic of) Anabaptist theology and practice--my description.  Dwight wrote a response to Challies and urged others to do so also.  I read his urging on Facebook and ignored it, believing that I would be in over my head on the topic.  In an effort to keep my thoughts calm and untroubled, I didn't even read Challies' article.  Then Dwight tagged me and a number of others in the Facebook post where he had originally urged others to write.  So I read Challies--after I read Dwight's response to Challies.  Without being sure that I knew what I was going to say, I followed the link to Challies' article and then to the section for responses.  I hope that what I wrote is not counter-productive.  I know it is not based on being widely read in Christian literature on the topic of Christians and non-violence, and for that I feel a bit unsure of myself.  That it's also definitely an "off the top of my head" offering is a little scary too.  Here it is (in its non-paragraphed format):


"To kill animals for food, to kill animals that threaten the safety of humans, and sometimes to kill animals that endanger property." That's my answer to the question of how Christians should use guns.  Guns are designed to be efficient killing machines.  As such, they should never be seen as appropriately turned on human beings.  I say this because of what I believe to be Scriptural regarding the sanctity of human life.  Francis Schaeffer alluded to this by saying that in God's creative acts, he drew two distinct lines--one between Creator and creation; the other between man and the rest of creation.  While all of creation is separate from the Creator, only man bears the image of God, and I believe that to use lethal force against any human being is wrong because of the value God himself places on human life.   The second reason I feel that using lethal force is wrong is that it directly counters the teaching and example of Christ.  At Calvary, he confronted injustice and danger with suffering love.  We are to follow that example.  Once that is settled in our minds, all hypothetical circumstances can be trusted to the omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God who leads us, who is our refuge and strength, and who is our ever-present help in time of trouble.  I believe Preston Sprinkle's book Fight:  A Christian Case for Non-violence to be a worthwhile read on the topic your article addresses.  I believe it to contain wisdom revealed by a careful study of God's Word--a value I see referenced in your writing as well.


I will copy here also Dwight's Facebook post on the topic.  Note that part of it is the "urging others to write" part, and part of it is Dwight's actual response to Challies.  In posting it here, I am joining Dwight in urging thoughtful people to consider responding to Challies also.

Suggestion: If you are a nonresistant Christian, please write a respectful "letter to the editor" to Tim Challies regarding his coverage of John Piper's article about Christians and arms. This seems to be an opportune moment to invite our Reformed brothers and sisters to more fully embrace the way of suffering love.
And here you can write him a letter:
I suggest you include two things in your letter:
(1) A brief response to something in Challies' post (perhaps challenging one of the rebuttals against Piper's article) or an affirmation of something you liked in Piper's article.
(2) A suggestion that Challies read and review Preston Sprinkle's book Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence. ( If he receives a minor flood of letters recommending this book, perhaps we can convince him to read it. Imagine if he would actually start promoting it!
Here is the letter I just sent:
Dear Tim Challies,
Thank you for giving John Piper's article on Christians and arms respectful press. I found his words a refreshing breath of Christ-centered love. In response to your summary of responses, I have two thoughts:
(1) While Piper's article is not perfect, I am disappointed that he has been charged with being "biblicistic and dependent upon a specific understanding of the relationship between the New Testament and the Old" (Wedgeworth's words). How can it be wrong to see the new covenant as our lens for interpreting and applying the old, as Piper is trying to do? As an Anabaptist, I come from a long theological heritage of doing just this, and our people have suffered for centuries for refusing to bear the sword. I don't think it is true that Piper "assumes that we need a direct biblical teaching on a matter in order to know whether it is morally permissible or not" (Wedgeworth's explanation for his "biblicistic" charge). Rather, Piper is drawing biblical theological deductions from the pattern of God's unfolding revelation, which climaxes in Christ's defenseless self-sacrifice and his call for us to follow in his steps. This is no mere simplistic "biblicism."
(2) Since you have expressed interest in this question of Christians and the use of force, I strongly encourage (exhort, implore, urge, beg!) you to read and review Preston Sprinkle's book Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence. A complex topic like this cannot be properly addressed in a handful of short articles. Sprinkle deals with the biblical evidence from both testaments in detail, historical evidence from the early church, and the toughest practical questions from today. He says he is from your own Christian neighborhood: "The Christian subculture in which I was raised and still worship is nondenominational conservative Reformed. I've been influenced over the years by John Piper, John MacArthur, R. C. Sproul, and many others who swim in that pond" (from Chapter 1). So you will identify with his way of handling Scripture. And he's thought about this for a long time, making what he calls a "reluctant journey toward nonviolence." Piper needs to read this book (I think he's stranded somewhat inconsistently halfway on the journey). And I think you would find it very helpful as well. Tolle lege!
God bless you as you continue blogging for the glory of Christ!
Dwight Gingrich


Just this yet . . . I was frankly horrified when I read what Falwell said, and am really gratified that Piper is going on record in challenge to Falwell.  I'm grateful also for others of lesser fame who are raising a prophetic voice on the topic.  It's often difficult (perhaps especially for Anabaptists?) to get exactly the right balance of truth-telling and respectful dialog.  Kudos to those who make the effort.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Public Service Announcement--For the Locals

The current Plain Talk contains the following announcement:

Classes on Growing and Using Cut Flowers

Contact Miriam Iwashige (567-2123) before Jan. 1 if interested, with the first class to meet in January.

As part of Master Gardener certification, I have an obligation to volunteer time in the community in the area of horticulture.  Please let me know if you would be interested in classes in another specific area of horticulture.


I should have mentioned that I intend for this class to emphasize cut flower growing for home use--not for market gardening or sale to the public.  Much of the information will apply to both, but the scale will be small.  I intend to divide out seeds purchased at wholesale prices, giving each class participant a small collection of seeds for cut flower varieties.  Much of the actual planting will happen in class, with the seedlings grown at home under florescent shop lights.  Each individual can plant additional varieties at home, based on their own preference.


Because many churches were canceled last Sunday, and we did not have a Wednesday evening service in lieu of a joint Christmas Day service at Cedar Crest, I'm sure I'll have to be flexible on the Jan. 1 deadline mentioned here.  Most people haven't yet retrieved the Plain Talk from the Church mailboxes.

When the first person "enrolled" I prepared some information on the class.  If you send me an email, I'll be glad to send out that information.  My email address is  "Cut Flower Class Information" would be a good subject line entry for such an email.


The class will be geared toward adults and young people of high school age, but I'm open to having a grade school age child accompany a parent to the classes if the parent wishes to see that happen.  In that case, only one set of supplies will be needed.


There will be some expenses involved--only as much as is needed for covering actual costs.  An initial $10.00 fee will be collected at the first class, possibly with future collections of smaller amounts if it's needed.  I will be looking for a volunteer to help with keeping track of the money matters for the class.

Anyone who already has an indoor seed starting setup or a greenhouse will find the class relatively inexpensive.  Setting up something to start seeds is a requirement for taking the class. Some of the needed supplies are non-consumable or at least reusable, so the investment can pay off for some time into the future.


One of the reasons for choosing to focus on flowers rather than vegetables is that if you can start flowers from seed, you can certainly start vegetables.  The reverse is not necessarily true.

Most cut flower varieties are not available in the retail trade.  The trend is to grow stocky, low-growing bedding plants, and what is needed in cut flowers is long stems from a relatively tall plant.  I will order seeds for the group that I know from my own experience to be suitable for growing in a Kansas garden, with an ability to last for a reasonable length of time when placed in a vase indoors.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Plant Crimes

I hold to several assumptions about the created world and man's relation to it.  These assumptions are based on what I believe to be the truth of Scripture.  Admittedly, other beliefs I hold to about proper interactions with the created world are personal preferences (some of them informed by learning from people far more knowledgeable than I) within the broad framework of  unalterable truth.  In general, I think shearing of landscape plants is a mistake, with only a few exceptions.  Here's why.

1.  Often the natural shape of the plant is ruined.  Instead of displaying the variety and beauty that are both worship-worthy aspects of God's creation, the plant has had the will of the pruner-wielding person imposed upon it.  In my opinion, the pruner's will is almost never an improvement on the Father's creation.

2.  Sometimes the functionality of the plant is compromised.  I'm thinking especially of trees functioning as a windbreak.  In our area, the species most commonly used for this function is the Eastern Redcedar.  I have intuitively known for a long time that pruning these trees is hardly ever a good idea (if their windbreak function is to be preserved), but only recently learned why.  It turns out that some--maybe most--trees contain latent buds underneath the bark.  This means that when the growing tip of a branch is cut off, those latent buds become activated, and put out new growth farther back on the branch or trunk.  Not so with Eastern redcedars.  They have no latent buds.  I believe this to be true of all plants in the juniper family.  What this means is that if the green tips of the branches are removed, the remainder of those branches will forever and ever be "dead" for all practical purposes.  The stump of the branches will be on ugly display for the life of the tree, and the remaining bare branches will have very limited wind-curbing effect.  I can't for the life of me understand why anyone would wish to create such a situation.  The bare branch could, of course, be removed all the way back to the trunk, and thus be less unsightly, but, minus both the dense green growth and the branches, all windbreak function is lost.  Appealing texture and color has been stripped away as well.

3.  The unity of a planting may be destroyed.  In a new landscape planting, most of the plants are usually small.  Except perhaps for specimen plants, we space them appropriately to accommodate their mature size--when the tips of the branches are expected to touch and perhaps intermingle a bit.  When a planting is mature, several good things result.  One is that there is no longer much need for maintenance around the plants.  Mulching between grown-together plants is not needed because weeds will not grow in the dense shade of mature plants.  Shading of the ground helps preserve moisture--another reason for being able to skip the mulch.  The second benefit is that mature plants without spaces between them "read" as a single landscape element.  This can perhaps be best explained by noticing what happens to your eyes when you take in a planting where every plant has been sheared to create space between it and its neighbor.  Your eye stops at every plant, jerking along from one to the next.  The planting feels and looks disjointed.  If they are allowed to grow together, your eye takes it in all at once and its pleasing effect is magnified.  If the plants have been well-chosen and well-situated, this single large shape enhances the plants and structures around it.  Separating each plant from its neighbors creates the effect of a large area containing many specimen (accent) plants--a huge landscape design faux pas.  Unity is a universally-recognized design principle among designers in every profession.  Accent is also universally recognized, and always used very sparingly in pleasing designs--probably only once in each area.

4.  Pruning may place in full view unattractive elements that ought to be hidden by plant material.  Would anyone really rather see lots of mulch than lots of plant material?  Or lots of bare walls and hard edges and sharp corners of a building rather than foundation plants along the wall and softening plants at the corners?  Would anyone really rather pay for mulch and go to the trouble of spreading it than to have limited or no need for mulch?

5.  Blooming potential may be lost.  Pruning off dead blooms is fine any time and does not compromise plant health, although it may limit the plant's usefulness to birds or other wildlife during winter.  For that reason I almost always wish to leave plants unaltered as they go into winter.  Another compelling reason to avoid fall "tidying" is that pruning woody growth at that time will almost certainly make blooms impossible for that plant the following spring.  Buds for spring bloom are formed on the previous year's summer growth.  Spring blooming plants, if pruning is to be done at all, should be pruned immediately after bloom.

6.  The plant's health may be compromised.  A pruning cut is an open wound through which disease may enter the plant "body"--just like humans with a skin wound or amputation of a limb.  Many proper pruning techniques are aimed at minimizing this risk as much as possible.  Willy-nilly snipping here and there does not minimize this risk.

7.  Winter die-back may kill a pruned plant.  Some plants routinely suffer some winter die-back at the branch tips.  In the spring, anything dead can be removed, and new growth occurs on what remains (see #2 above).  Cutting back branches hard in the fall destroys the ability of the plant to preserve a forgiving micro-climate around itself during winter cold.  In other words, the harshness of the winter cold has access all the way to the lower stems and crown of the plant, with no wind protection from nearby plants (if they are also ruthlessly pruned) and no insulating leaf or snow layer to mitigate the cold.  If the lower branches and the crown gets cold enough to freeze the latent buds, those plants  will not grow back.  Better to leave the branches long and leave the plant able to protect itself through the winter.

So is pruning ever advisable?  Of course, under these conditions:

1.  To correct shape imbalances.  A renegade and over-sized branch may need heading back.  The recent ice storm took care of that very untidily in our honeylocust tree in the backyard.  If we had done it ourselves last summer when we noticed that one branch was racing along all by itself toward the east property line, the jagged and torn stump of that limb could be on its way to healing by now.

2.  To limit interference with necessary human activities.  When shrubs or trees encroach on a walkway enough to make walking inconvenient, some heading back is called for.  I personally like having the sharp edge of a sidewalk softened by low-growing perennial plant material, but it can quickly become too much and needs to be reined in.  Sizing the planting beds appropriately when construction happens can help avoid such problems (running sidewalks too close to the building is very common).  Being able to open or see out from windows (if seeing out is needful) is another reason that foundation plantings may need trimming.  Choosing appropriately-sized plants eliminates this need.  Cutting off the lower limbs of mature trees to admit light or make walking under the trees possible is sometimes necessary.

3.  To remove diseased areas.  This can help limit spread of the disease.

4.  To remove "rogue" growth.  Plants with variegated leaves occasionally will put out branches with leaves that are not variegated.  These plain branches are usually more robust than the variegated ones, and will eventually take over and destroy the special effect of the colorful leaves if they are not pruned out.

5.  To renew the plant.   This applies primarily to shrubs.  Only rarely should any shrub be cut back entirely--only when the plant has been neglected for a very long time and is unhealthy or lacks vigor because of it, or it interferes impossibly with human activity.  It should for sure not happen every year in most cases.  What should usually be done instead with mature shrubs in need of rejuvenation is to annually entirely remove a few of the oldest stems and then bring the remaining branches into balance, cutting some branch tips back a bit if necessary.  Make the heading-back cuts just ahead of an outward-growing branch so as not to clog up the center of the plant with plant material.  The same principle applies to mature trees that need trimming.  Don't top them, but judiciously remove dead branches and anything clogging up or growing toward the center of the tree.  Topping a tree completely destroys the shape of the tree and encourages the growth of dense and eventually unhealthy regrowth--not good.  Leave them alone if they're healthy.

6. To scratch your pruning itch.  Just make sure that you're on your own private property and that you're not risking the wrath of God (!), good family relationships, or property devaluation by doing so.   You know the saying: "If you have a hammer in your hand, everything looks like a nail."  If having a pruner, lopper, handsaw, or chainsaw in your hand makes everything look like it needs pruning, have at it.  Just make sure that the likely unpleasant consequences are not inflicted on anyone other than yourself.  Also, check with God first.

Pruning gone awry constitutes going overboard on the "subduing" part of God's command in Genesis, without regard for the "replenishing" part that is in the same sentence of that command.  As I see it, holding the replenishing obligation in as high regard as you do the subduing one is a first step in getting pruning just right.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sunday Wrapup--December 20, 2015

Any pretense of organization regarding my blog posting habits or pretense about well-thought-out content will be laid to rest with this post.  I'm reasonably sure of this.  I have two posts waiting in the wings, but they're not ready, and for tonight I'm pretending they don't exist--in favor of posting rambling shallow content.


The trustees at church got a bunch more of the wonderfully comfortable black padded chairs with armrests that were initially purchased for the convenience of those who have trouble getting into and out of other chairs.  Everyone in our Sunday School class who regularly sees the difficulty some of our class members have in this department appreciates the wisdom of this purchase.  It shows kindness and respect for our elders.  The chairs have the added benefit of being stackable.


The cupboards for the new church kitchen are being made at Bontragers.  Today we had a chance to cast a vote between two finish alternatives.  Earlier, anyone who wished to do so could provide input on selection of wood.  Hickory was chosen, and an oak stain or a clear stain are options.

I'm very pleased with the open, input-seeking modus operandi of this committee of trustees.


A different placement is being considered for my cousin, Linford, who has resided at Faith Mission Home for a number of years.  The match between the program there and his needs no longer seems as workable as it once did.


My cousin, Landon B. was in church this morning--to the surprise of his relatives here--except for Gary's family.  He came through on his truck on a run between Texas and Nebraska? and stopped in for the day.  After his current load is dropped off he heads home to Iowa for Christmas.


Other guests in church were Phil and Ellen N.  Phil's presence there meant that we had six members of the class together that went through grade school in the same class.  That was only about half of us, but it's more than are usually together on a Sunday morning.


The students from Faith Builders are home for the holidays.  This includes Hannah and Frieda.  Anita Yoder came here with them and is visiting in the home of her sister's family--the Gideon and Esther Yutzy household.


Arlynn Mast, who has lived and worked in South Carolina for several years, is home to stay, for the present at least.


My brother Ronald turned 50 today.  He and his family had gotten the urge to treat their entire church family to a meal after church today--on their regular carry-in Sunday.  He announced this to everyone at church, after which Christoper, his oldest son, added his own announcement--that the meal was also a birthday surprise for Ronald.  Ronald reports that he started feeling a little weird about his first announcement at about the time the second one was made.

Ronald shared a birthday with my Grandma Beachy, who died at the age of 98--in the late 1980s.  


Long after I got home from church today, Hiromi pointed out a sizeable white spot on the shoulder of the dark purple dress I had worn to church.  That was the first time I realized that little Cedric must have left behind a spit-up gift when he was squirming on my shoulder during church today.  I wonder how many other people saw it.  I hope it didn't bother them any more than it bothered me--ignorant as I was of its presence.


Just in case you're wondering, I'll tell you that two puppies are probably the only "thing" worse in the cluttering department than one puppy.  Every bit of soft fabric we have provided as bedding material inside the doghouse or in any puppy-selected sleeping places has disappeared from that original spot and been dragged or shredded all over the place.  My sympathies are greatly aroused when the weather is wet or cold or windy, but my best efforts to provide comfort for these little guys are regularly thwarted.  The puppies and the cat would all be happy to cohabit with us, and sometimes it looks tempting, but so far common sense has prevailed.

We actually own only one puppy, but Barney has company right now, while Grant and Clare's family is visiting her parental family in Washington.  Buck and Barney fight like brothers--which they are.

I passed my final test for the Master Gardener class.  One question I missed was due to a grading error on an earlier quiz.  I had it wrong, but it wasn't checked wrong.  The question reappeared on the final and I answered it as before.  This time it was wrong.  I should have followed up on my hunch when the quiz came back with a perfect score earlier.  Just for the record, blackberries bear fruit on floricanes--not primocanes.


More fresh garden goodies made it to the house last week.  I'm still marveling at the good fortune of this very productive fall gardening season.  I have yet to see if the one tiny cauliflower head and the one tiny cabbage head that is still out there will continue to develop.  All the heads we harvested last week had grown to eating size since the 22 degree night when we thought surely we had completed the last harvest of the season.  Everything we're bringing in is pest free and delicious--from lettuce to broccoli.


There's a dead possum on the road right by our driveway.  I suppose that might mean that he was a resident of this place, or at least he roamed about on this place.  I'm not sorry that we didn't have to take action to euthanize him.  I learned to use that term for killing nuisance animals at the Master Gardener class.  Sounds better than "kill" or "shoot."  Right?


Last week when I had three grandsons here at the same time and it was nearing lunch time, I asked Carson (2) if he was hungry.  "Yes," he answered carefully.  "I'm hungry for rice and chicken." Wherever did that come from?  As it happened, I actually had a nice amount of leftover rice and turkey in the refrigerator, and, now that I knew what he wanted, I reheated it for all the little ones.  They happily snarfed it down.

The rice had been cooked biriyani style.  E. and L. left a recipe for this with us, along with some of the ingredients one of the last times they were home.  I've cooked it before, and our family has always enjoyed it.  The spices are Indian spices, and the rice is cooked with some dairy products.

This time I took a shortcut and used garam masala, which is ready-made mix of Indian spices.  I substituted the mix for the spices in my original recipe.  To my non-expert taste buds, it tasted just like the recipe I had followed originally.  I put the spices in a muslin bag and fished it out before serving the rice.  E. tells me it doesn't need to be done that way, but I'm opting for convenience over being a purist for Asian cooking techniques.


I'm getting annoyed with Facebook for all the non-friend content clogging up my newsfeed.  I do my best not to encourage this obnoxious behavior by scrolling right on past the unsolicited content so Facebook gets the message that I'm not interested.  I don't think it's working.

Any ideas on what to do, other than abandoning Facebook?


Dorcas pointed out another problem with Facebook recently when our children's families were here.  With reference to some disturbing posts we had read, she pointed out that if it weren't for social media we wouldn't know that certain people hold those disturbing viewpoints.  It doesn't come up in our regular interactions.

I agree that it would be more comfortable to know less.  I'm still trying to decide, however, if it would be better overall.  If it's there, is hiding it really helpful?


I suppose the same logic could apply to following other kinds of news right now.  Not learning about it would be more comfortable.  Would that be better though?

When a public figure lacks a moral compass, it's not pretty to see on public display what vices and character flaws rush in to fill up the empty space.  Neither is it pleasant to see people "assassinated" for operating from a position of integrity.  Painful also is seeing integrity compromised for the sake of expediency.  Jesus' wisdom in not promoting change through political means becomes increasingly obvious during every election cycle.


A month or more ago, in a sermon Dwight preached, he mentioned the fact that America had agreed to receive 70,000* immigrants, and that he hoped that our church could take at least one family under our wing.  He noted that the refugee problem was huge and it's easy to feel helpless in the face of such overwhelming need, but it's important to be willing to act in whatever ways are open to us, even if those acts seem small in comparison to the needs.  I heard later from Dorcas that Shane hopes that one of his rentals might be able to house such a family.  All this felt very right.

None of us could have guessed what a hot-button political issue the refugee/immigrant matter would soon become or what draconian measures would be advocated.  Some of the rhetoric from professing Christians seems utterly devoid of the suffering love Christ exemplified at Calvary, to which he calls those who follow him.

* The number of Syrian refugees who will be accepted is far lower than 70,000, and the governors of many states, including ours, have gone on record as forbidding the use of any state funds for resettlement of refugees within their own state borders.   Putting out the "unwelcome" mat is what I'm calling it.


World magazine is running a serial "Hank the Cow Dog" story, with one new chapter every day.  I used to shake my head at Grant's great fascination with these stories.  He and his buddy Ryan memorized portions of the books and could sing the "coyote song" by memory.  I did find the stories amusing--a little guiltily so, but I never ever expected to see them appear in World magazine.  Then yesterday I found out that the author is a Christian, someone who takes his faith seriously.  So maybe I don't have to feel guilty anymore about enjoying Hank the Cow Dog stories.

Hank has many "human" foibles, and the accounts of farm/ranch life on the plains always ring true, right down to Hank's being forced to tolerate cheap Co-op dog food.


I found another Hiromi Iwashige on Facebook tonight.  She's a young girl living in Japan.


My sister Clara is coming on Christmas Day.  The following day will be a family reception for my niece Emily and her new husband Andrew "Drew" Miller.  For this event the KC family contingent will be here, and the Labette County one as well (Ronald's family).  It's shaping up to be a fun time.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Life and Rest, and Joy, and Peace

I just returned from the funeral and burial of my uncle, Edwin Miller.  He was 94.  He was my father's oldest brother, and the father of Marlin, Valetta Yoder, Omar, Orville, Leanna Chrystie, and Howard.  Edwin's wife, Nellie, died some time ago, after they had been married for 63 years.

Valetta was my age, Omar was Carol's age, Orville was Myron's age, Leanna was Lowell's age, and Howard was Dorcas' age.  Marlin was the only one in their family who had no age mate in ours.  I had always known that Edwin and Nellie had children who died in infancy--three, in fact.  Their names were Loretta, Wilbur, and Raymond.  I believe they were all born prematurely.

As has happened to me before, I feel like I know my uncle Edwin better now than I did before.  Hearing from his children about what he cared about, with what grace he accepted the losses of the last years (vision and mobility, among others), and of the faith that coursed in a deep current through all of his life provided a fuller picture of Uncle Edwin than I had before.

I had always known Edwin to be intelligent, well-read, and knowledgeable, although he never attended school beyond eighth grade (which he accomplished a year ahead of schedule).  I knew him also to be a hard worker and an excellent manager.  Those who knew him only in recent years perhaps believe he always moved slowly and gingerly, but I remember him swiftly striding about on the farm, and accomplishing farm work with dispatch.

I remember him giving me a job during harvest one year when I was probably in the lower grades in school, and I proudly proclaimed my status to every family member within earshot as soon as Edwin was out of earshot.  "I have a job!" I said.  The wheat was being stored in a round steel bin in our farmyard, and it dropped into the bin at the top via an auger that had its lower end situated inside a hopper that stood on the ground, ready to receive the grain being dumped from a grain truck or wagon--most likely a pickup-mounted grain bin actually.  My job was to run to the hopper whenever a load of grain came in, and stand beside it to direct the person in the hauling vehicle--so that he could get it backed up just right to start dumping grain.

 When I was young my dad and Edwin did some farming together, and shared equipment.  As a consequence, we children spent many hours working together--or playing together while our dads worked together.  A long tiring job of tilling the fields was ever-so-much more enjoyable when one person from each family went to the field together and took turns making rounds.  We usually agreed on a specified number of rounds at the outset, after which we would trade off drivers.  The off-duty driver waited under a shade tree if such were available.

Last Saturday when Lois and I took lunch over for the family that had gathered after Edwin's death, we reminisced about one particularly vexing aspect of those field working escapades--the pop-off valve on our old U M&M (Minneapolis Moline).  As the LP gas in the tractor's tank expanded in the heat of the day, it continued to build up pressure until a safety release valve was activated.  When that happened, the noise was deafening, and a dramatic plume of vapor blasted out and billowed all around.  As Marlin remembered it, the ones in our family were used to it, and weren't terribly bothered by it, but those in their family feared it greatly.

I remember it a little differently.  I don't think anyone ever got used to it.  It gave a bit of warning by a soft hissing, and if we hadn't been so scared of the whole business, we could actually have manually released some pressure at that point by opening the valve.  Instead, we cowered and waited and then shuddered helplessly when it finally blew.  Valetta remembers being so traumatized by it once that she walked a mile to our house from the field where she was working along Centennial Road, claiming that the blast had blown her off the tractor.  On Saturday she gave a more likely version.  It blew and she stopped the tractor safely and left in a hurry.

I learned to ride a bike on Edwin's farm, with Valetta hanging onto the seat and running alongside to help me stay upright--over and over that one day, with great patience.  That night when I lay in bed I could still feel my legs pumping up and down on those bicycle pedals, and I could feel my body tautly struggling to stay upright.  I was ever-so-pleased to have learned how to ride a bike that day.

Valetta and I were very much alike in our fascination with all things outdoors, and probably similarly unenamored with indoor work.  We encouraged each others' tomboy instincts and climbed trees, investigated bird nests, and romped around on the farm at every opportunity.  We went to church barefoot long after more prim girls our age were donning shoes to go to church.  We persisted till we were nine years old.

Because of Marlin's big-brother input, Valetta was usually far ahead of me in learning about important things such as cars and car races and gospel music.  Valetta always had the low-down on the cars in the church parking lot--make and model and more.  I learned almost everything I knew from her.

Several years ago when I did some research on my grandparents' life in preparation for a presentation at a family reunion, I felt like I gained a smidgen of insight into what had shaped Edwin into the very responsible, high-achieving person he became.  His position as the first-born of twelve children was probably the most significant factor, but there was more.

By the time Edwin was 16 there were 11 younger siblings.  Nine in the family were boys.  The Great Depression hit when he was eight years old, and a great drought in the Midwest followed closely on its heels.  Life was tough for everyone, but perhaps particularly so in the Miller household, where there was a lot of farm work, and only young children in the home.  I think Edwin must have had a lot of responsibility at a very young age, first in working for his father at home, and then in working for others.  Edwin began to work away from home when he was quite young.  If he did so as soon as he was finished with school, he might have been as young as 13.  I knew Edwin to have had very little use for frivolity and irresponsibility, and it makes perfect sense against the background of the expectations he faced from little up.

Edwin served in practical ways in the church and community.  He was the sexton at church for years.  Before the days of air conditioning, that meant opening the windows on a Saturday summer evening to cool the building thoroughly, and then to close the windows early the next morning to keep the cool air inside.  During the winter, the furnace got turned up on Saturday evening, and turned down again after church.  The church building itself figured large in the family's memories.  Orville's earliest memory is of his mother loading him and his older brother Omar into a wagon and pulling the wagon down the road to watch the construction of the Center church building on a corner of their farm.

In speaking of the mark the church left on their family, Orville noted wryly that their family left a mark on the church as well.  On one occasion when Howard was too young to help with clearing off the sidewalk during the winter (I think I'm remembering the chore right), he stayed in the car, with the motor running to keep him warm.  Somehow he wrangled the car into gear and collided with the west wall of the building.  A chunk broken out of one brick was the mark that stayed a long time.  Fortunately the distance the car traveled was very short and the speed couldn't have been great.

Edwin traveled sometimes to help out with Mennonite Disaster Service projects--something he enjoyed a great deal, although he didn't often take the time to leave home otherwise, except for family trips to see Nellie's Indiana family.

Nellie was a fortunate part of Edwin's life.  I suspect it was partly her vision that had the family packing up for a 3-week camping trip to Colorado and Wyoming during one summer, leaving Howard, the 6-month-old baby, at Melvin Yoders, and having Abe and David Yoder stay at Edwin's place to milk the cows and move irrigation pipe, etc.  Everything they took with them for three weeks of camping fit into the trunk of their Bonneville Pontiac (Thanks to Valetta, I could identify such a car today if I saw one).  That trip is a highlight of the children's memory bank.

In later years, Edwin and Nellie traveled together to Europe and to various places on tours in the US--one or two every year in their retirement years, while their health allowed it.  On these trips, I believe Edwin could lay aside the mantle of responsibility that had characterized his life earlier, and a  mellow, gentle man gradually emerged.  That's what people saw who cared for him in the 4 1/2 years he lived at Mennonite Friendship Communities where he died.  He was appreciative and uncomplaining, liberally sprinkling his communications with good humor.

Today at the funeral, Shane led in the congregational singing of "'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus."  The significance of that choice became clear when Orville shared that in a Sunday evening song service at MFC, Edwin helped sing every word of that song--at a time when he hardly ever sang more than single phrases of most songs, and he never again sang any of that song, even when others sang it.  Orville believed it to be the testimony of his heart.  I'm sure that from now on, I will be voicing a tribute to my Uncle Edwin every time I sing that song.  I've copied the words* here from this site:

1 'Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
and to take him at his word;
just to rest upon his promise,
and to know, "Thus saith the Lord." 
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust him!
How I've proved him o'er and o'er!
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust him more! 
2 O how sweet to trust in Jesus,
just to trust his cleansing blood;
and in simple faith to plunge me
neath the healing, cleansing flood! [Refrain]
3 Yes, 'tis sweet to trust in Jesus,
just from sin and self to cease;
just from Jesus simply taking
life and rest, and joy and peace. [Refrain]
United Methodist Hymnal, 1989
*Our hymnal contains a very slightly altered version.